Friday, August 2, 2013

Urban Garden in Cite Soleil

Several weeks ago, while I was in Haiti, I had an amazing opportunity to witness one of the most incredible development projects. Now when I say incredible, I am not exaggerating. The project wasn't anything high-tech or fancy. No big pieces of equipment or lots of fancy materials. Rather, the project was using simplicity, logic, and available resources. Why is that so incredible? Because it's a tangible project that people outside of funded NGO groups can actually participate in at little to no cost. It is a project that not only increases food security, but fosters community relationships, enhances work ethics and self-proficiency, and can provide an alternative therapy for individuals that may be suffering from emotional or mental disorders.

Several days after visiting the owner of the health fitness club in Haiti (see story here), he sent me this link:

 I looked through the photos quickly and thought "awesome!" and didn't really digest the whole article. Several days later, my best friend sent me a link to a CNN video about the same garden in Cite Soleil. 

The video can be watched here: 

If that doesn't give you a sense of hope, then I don't know what to tell you. I watched the video and nearly started crying. A sustainable, urban garden in the poorest city in Haiti. Unbelievable!

Upon watching the video, I contact a few people and managed to arrange a visit to the garden for the following week. Before I knew it, I was on my way to the garden.

 It was an absolutely inspirational visit. The managers of the garden were passionate about what they do, and had a message that was parallel to my own. Food security can exist in Haiti and eating plants is so important for health.

Here, you can hear him speak it for yourself....

Another great character to add to my list of inspirational Haitian people.

If you have never been to Cite Soleil before, let me just show you a few photos from my previous trips here. Upon looking at the photos, you might be inclined to make some quick assumptions about people's lives and experience living here.

Poor relative to our standards and context of living in the more "developed" world.

My experiences in Haiti have taught me to not be quick on making assumptions about something I know nothing about. However, based upon looking at photos of Cite Soleil, people (myself included) would think food insecurity is not possible....that the people living here are doomed....

My experience at the garden and hearing Daniel's story changed my perspective and perception entirely.

Let me just walk you through my day at the garden...

Here is the drive into the garden. 

Greeted by the Sakala signs

One of the buildings at the compound--love the tree of life. 

Getting a tour of the garden..I was blown away just walking in and seeing vegetation!

The children that participate in the garden each have their own moringa trees!

More moringa trees

Planting in almost any kind of container they can find! 

planting in old tires.

A little green onion growing in the top of a bottle.

A little mint herb!

Daniel leading me to the compost site. 

This whole area is designated for compost. 

After market days, the children and volunteers at the garden help to gather leftover green and brown materials. They sort out the garbage ( non-compostable materials) and put this into the compost piles.
That is some nice looking compost!

Daniel is attempting to plant in the soil--looks like the plants are doing fairly well! 

"Epina" (Haitian spinach).

A whole moringa forest!!!! Every couple months, they go through and trim all the moringa trees to be used for food. 
Reminds me of an apple orchard! 

Daniel showing me how he uses some good dirt (which he has brought in from the countryside), compost, and a little mulch to help nourish the soil in his beds. Daniel uses his garden to provide education sessions for schools and other people interested in sustainable, urban gardening.  

Plantain trees
After my tour of the garden, I asked  Daniel a few questions. I was interested in the how and whys of his work in the garden. He shared his story. To summarize his personal story, the  garden is a way to provide a nutritious meal and an activity to reduce crime and build community.

 Daniel is truly a light of hope for the youth and community members.

While Daniel continued to speak with me about nutrition, health, and community, each neuron in my brain had to be lighting up. Has he been reading my blogs? Does he have the ability to read minds? The likelihood of both of those questions...No, probably not.

Everything spilling out of his mouth was exactly what I practice, preach, and desire to do.
He talked about the role of the parents/ adults modeling healthy eating for children (see my blog on Food Wars), about the importance of including the children in the gardening efforts, wanting nutrition education information (which is on my heart), and painting healthy eating information on walls (I am not kidding you, the two weeks prior to my visit I had been trying to figure out how to do this in Haiti). I see some wonderful opportunities for partnership... and look forward to supporting Daniel's and the rest of the garden keeper's efforts with my nutrition and public health related knowledge.

I  feel very honored to have met two very inspirational people.

The gardens truly bring a place of love and peace for all those who participate in its efforts. 

Here is another awesome urban garden taking place in South Central, LA (United States) that talks about the similar benefits of growing gardens and having children participate in them:

Inspirational huh?
Kids grow kale... kids eat kale. 

Conclusions from this: 

1. In the mist of all this....

This can also exist......

There is hope in what most would deem as "hopeless" places. 

2. Get kids involved in the garden and in the kitchen. Teach them about plants, about fruits and vegetables, about eating well. (Jamie Oliver's Tedtalk-- ). One of the best life skills you can give your children.

3. Think practical and sustainable.
Be a forward thinker.
Take things one step at a time--baby steps-- to get to the larger goal.

You know you can replant a lot of seeds and even regrow certain vegetables and fruits!?
Yeah, cool huh!? I am learning about it... and attempting it myself. Why not!

Attempting to regrow a celery in my MN garden! 

4. Use your resources wisely.

5. And as always, become an educated consumer.
Consume less.
Because humans are the greatest threat to life itself... read it here.